Tom of Finland: Rough / Early Notebooks, Preliminary Drawings and Master Works / 2006

July 29 – September 9, 2006

Reception Saturday July 29th, 5-8pm

Western Project is proud to present a historic selection of drawings and artist notebooks by Tom of Finland. Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), also known as Tom of Finland, is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His exploration of the erotic and sexual imagination of the modern man has had an enormous impact on the evolution of our construct of the male image. Tom of Finland’s drawings are a benchmark for ideas of freedom, prefiguring the sexual revolution of the later 20th century and at the front lines of the gay liberation movement beginning in the 1950s. This exhibition explores an artist fully formed at a very young age becoming a master of drawing and story telling.

Never considering his drawings as fine art, Tom worked outside the traditional art world, obsessed with his vision of pleasure and erotic freedom. His work is an indictment of the male libido – aggressive, relentless, and playful - consumed with the possibilities of Eros. The images are heroic, iconoclastic, flushed with testosterone and humor. His work exemplifies a rare clarity, achieved by the single focus of imagination and the consistent practice of craft by an artist. His mastery of drawing formidably illuminates his love of the male form, akin to Picasso’s obsession with women, and Russ Meyer’s awe of the feminine figure. His work influenced numerous artists over many decades such as Andy Warhol, Bob Mizer, Robert Mapplethorpe, Mike Kelly, and a host of others.

This exhibition begins with the artist’s earliest known notebooks (from the age of 7) showing his understanding of the narrative comic form and style. The preliminary drawings from the early 1940s are the seedbed of his drawing style to come; contemporary scenes of male sexual conduct – cruising, preening, seduction, pairs, and groups – vanilla to hard core action, with each advancing decade bringing different codes and fetishes. There could be no Super Hero movie from the 1980s on, not informed by his imagery. It is Tom’s acute facility of drawing that created a larger than life image of men for his audience; a certainty that male sexuality was absolutely MALE and authentic, including romantic love. What is extraordinary, and still controversial, is the artist’s hand - as it testifies to the desire of all expressions of physical contact with total abandon, and with absolute will. The drawings document his uncontested wonder of what modern life was, and could be. They are an unapologetic and irony-free testament to art and a life lived 100%.

Drawings by Tom of Finland are in the collections of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art and most recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Chicago Art Institute. His work has been exhibited at the White Chapel Art Gallery in London, LACMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jyvaskyla Art Museum in Finland, and many other museums and galleries around the world.